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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

White House Backs Pakistan Arms Sale

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration has notified the Senate that it intends to proceed with a shipment to Pakistan of U.S. conventional arms worth hundreds of millions of dollars, despite opposition from lawmakers concerned about Pakistan's recent purchase from China of sensitive equipment for making nuclear weapons.

U.S. officials said Tuesday the decision rules out any immediate U.S. penalty against Pakistan for obtaining the nuclear-related equipment from China last year. Both nations subsequently denied the transaction, but U.S. intelligence officials and policy makers now say they are convinced it took place.

While U.S. laws bar direct military or economic assistance to any nations that obtain such nuclear equipment, the administration has decided that the transfer of the armaments is not restricted because Pakistan paid years ago for the U.S. arms, the officials said.

They said the administration also decided to proceed with the shipment in order to foster a dialogue with Pakistan aimed at producing a new commitment by that country that it will not expand or upgrade its nuclear arsenal.

"By engaging with the Pakistanis on a more cooperative basis, we can both improve the relationship generally and enhance our influence'' on nuclear nonproliferation, a senior official said.

Still undecided, officials say, is whether any economic sanctions over the nuclear-related transaction should be invoked in coming weeks against China. That is a far more controversial legal and political question, in the midst of heightened U.S.-Chinese tensions over Taiwan, human rights and the piracy of U.S. commercial goods.

Washington sent a delegation to Beijing last weekend to extract a promise that Pakistan will get no additional nuclear weapons-related aid, an arrangement that the officials said would enable the administration to waive a host of economic sanctions against China. But it was not clear Tuesday whether Beijing had agreed to cooperate.

In an unpublicized trip to Capitol Hill, Deputy National Security Adviser Samuel Berger, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe briefed senators on the Pakistan decision under tight secrecy rules.

The three officials said that Pakistan will finally be allowed to obtain Navy P-3C military aircraft, Harpoon and AIM-9L missiles, and other Army and Air Force equipment worth $368 million. It would also get roughly $120 million in cash that it paid in the late 1980s for U.S. weapons that were never manufactured, as well as some new U.S. aid worth tens of millions of dollars for its counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and peacekeeping efforts, officials said.

Pakistan purchased these arms in the late 1980s but was barred by U.S. law from receiving them because of its continuing nuclear weapons program. Under administration and Pakistani pressure last year, however, Congress approved in November a one-time exemption from the law allowing the transaction to proceed.

That was three months after the administration first obtained indications that a nuclear weapons research laboratory in Pakistan had received 5,000 specialized magnets from China for use in centrifuges that make enriched uranium, a key ingredient of nuclear arms. But for reasons the administration has never explained, word of the transaction did not reach many lawmakers until last month.